A disease typically associated with the Third World or even Biblical times sprang up in central Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that leprosy is not only on the rise but may be endemic to the area.
The CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) journal declared that the Sunshine State has seen “an increased incidence of leprosy cases lacking traditional risk factors.”
And it may be endemic. This designation means that the disease is regularly present in a particular community but contained and not spreading out of control.
The authors took the alarming step of warning that any cases of leprosy in other U.S. states should be contact traced through travel to Florida.
Leprosy is rare in the U.S., with only 159 new cases recorded in 2020. However, a majority of these were found in central Florida, including 81% of the cases discovered in the state.
The EID study determined that 34% of the new leprosy cases in central Florida between 2015 and 2020 apparently were contracted locally. U.S. cases declined for decades through 2000, the report confirmed, but have experienced a gradual increase since that time.
Cases of leprosy, 'historically uncommon' in US, surge in central Florida, CDC says https://t.co/OppGWXQYpC
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The CDC noted that a 54-year-old landscaper fell ill with a painful and progressive skin rash. When he sought treatment for the sickness, doctors discovered it was leprosy.
It was determined that he had not traveled internationally or domestically. The CDC also reported that he had no contact with immigrants from countries where the disease is endemic and had no exposure to armadillos. They are known to be carriers of leprosy.
A common factor among central Florida’s leprosy patients, according to the CDC, is spending time outdoors. This, the agency determined, “supports the investigation into environmental reservoirs as a potential source of transmission.”
Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease. It is caused by bacteria that affect skin and nerves and leads to swelling under the skin. The sense of touch may be lost, which results in injuries such as cuts and burns.
The CDC said that advanced cases may lead to victims becoming disfigured and losing fingers and toes.
Experts say leprosy is not spread through casual contact, though a person sneezing or coughing may spread droplets that lead to infection. Shaking hands, embracing or sitting next to an infected person is not thought to be dangerous.
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, reported that 90% of the population is naturally immune to leprosy.